hair loss

Common causes of hair damage and hair loss

This week, we are going to look at common causes of hair damage and loss and where possible, suggest simple things that you can incorporate into your daily routine to prevent them. We start with the cause that is hardest to treat with simple lifestyle adjustments – hereditary hair loss. Both women and men can develop this form of hair loss, which is medically known as androgenic alopecia. If you suffer from this form of hair loss, it, unfortunately, means you were unlucky enough to inherit a set of genes that causes your hair follicles to shrink and ultimately stop growing hair. For women, the first indication of hereditary hair loss is a widening part or an overall thinning, which can start as early as in the teenage years. For men, it is usually observed as a receding hairline or a developing bald spot on the top of the head. There is still much to be learned about this form of hair loss and if or how it can be best treated naturally, as many synthetic medications have undesired sided effects.

Another form of alopecia, known as alopecia areata, can also cause hair loss. It is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune (or defense) system gets a little confused and your white blood cells begin attacking your hair follicles, resulting in unpredictable and patchy hair loss. It can affect anyone, with most cases developing before the age of 30. The reason why the immune system launches an attack on hair follicles remains unclear, but there appears to be a link to genetics as alopecia areata is more likely to occur when there is a close family member that also has the disease, or when there is a family history of other autoimmune disorders such as atopy (the development allergic diseases such as allergic rhinitis or nose irritations, asthma and eczema which are associated with increased immune responses to common allergens), thyroiditis (swelling of the thyroid causing abnormally high or low levels of thyroid hormones in the blood) and vitiligo (development of pale white patches on the skin caused by lack of melanin with intriguing similarities, as well as differences, to alopecia areata). A widely held belief persists that alopecia areata is caused by stress, yet there is little scientific evidence supporting this theory.

However, this is not the case for another common cause of hair loss known as telogen effluvium. The hallmark of telogen effluvium is frequent extended periods of hair shedding and usually triggered by some disturbance to the hair cycle. The condition is linked to the telogen (resting) phase of the hair growth cycle. At any given time under normal circumstances, between 5-10% of our hair is in the telogen phase at any given time. But in telogen effluvium, the anagen or growth phase slows, meaning that the proportion of hair moving into the telogen phase becomes greater, up to 30%, resulting in shedding. The causes of telogen effluvium are many and include severe stress (usually observed ~ 3 months after the stressful event), poor diet, sudden weight loss, pregnancy and childbirth (typically observed 3-6 months after childbirth and has its own special name – post-partum telogen effluvium), menopause, certain drugs, underlying medical conditions, and surgery. The good news is that it is treatable and reversible, with treatment dependent upon the initial triggering event. Counseling can help manage stress or anxiety. Nutritional deficiencies can be addressed through improvements in dietary choices which should include healthy amounts of protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, eggs, grains, beans and nuts. The amino acid lysine, one of the ingredients in our product, and the mineral iron are also very important for hair growth. Also, avoidance of heat (blow drying, perming or curling) or chemical coloring treatments of your hair will also limit the effects of telogen effluvium and is a good practice even in the absence of telogen effluvium.

So far, we have discussed causes of hair loss that are largely biologically driven. But are there other less obvious ones? The answer is yes. For example, have you ever stopped to consider if the water you are using when washing your hair could actually be damaging it in the process? Well, it definitely can. You likely already know the tell-tale signs if you have hard water, such as the build-up of lime deposits around faucets, showerheads and even the bottom of your kettle and difficulty in producing nice soapy suds from soaps and detergents.  The minerals in the hard water can react with fatty acids in soaps and shampoos to form compounds that coagulate to leave residues and films behind, not just on your shower walls and door, but on your hair as well. This unwanted coating on your hair can prevent moisture from getting in and also result over time in a decreased hair thickness, leaving your hair more prone to breakage. But it doesn’t stop there. We all like to massage those lovely suds into our scalp to make sure our hair is as clean and shiny as possible. But with hard water, that is more difficult. And what do many of us do to compensate? Use more product which may have harsh chemicals in it or wash more frequently. The problem with that is that washing too frequently can strip your hair of its natural moisturizing oils leaving it looking dull, can dry out your scalp producing more dandruff and also lead to more split ends since your hair is more susceptible to damage when wet. So, if you see these signs, you may wish to consider not washing your hair quite as often.

Take away message

This week we dived into common causes of hair damage and hair loss, which included two different forms of alopecia, which are both largely genetically driven (and if you suspect you may have one of these, you should definitely consult your doctor) and another form known as telogen effluvium that leads to patchy hair loss and is triggered by some shock to our body (think stress, childbirth, poor diet, rapid weight loss, reaction to medications including but definitely not limited to chemotherapy) appearing a few months after the triggering event. Some of these are difficult to treat without the aid of your physician, but certainly, a healthy nutritional diet, with nutritional supplements if necessary, will be beneficial. But there are other things you can change in your day-to-day routine that can help as well. Avoid over-washing your hair (in particular with very hot water), curtail use of hair heat treating accessories such as blow driers, curling irons and straightening irons and if you live in a location with hard water, perhaps consider installing some type of water filter.



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